Bridging the communication gap between generations at work

By Paul Marcotte
May 30, 2017
4 min read
Bridging the communication gap between generations in the workforce

Summary: With three generations blended in today’s workforce, bridging the communication gap is a fundamental ingredient of a synergistic workplace.

Today’s workforce is comprised of members of three generations. Baby boomers who are at the sunset of their careers and preparing for retirement. Generation X members are mostly mid-life and mid-career. Generation Y (also known as Millennials) are in the early stage of their employment lives. There are definite differences in the work ethic, values, and attitudes of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Boomers, tend to be very focused on work and career, preferring a single long-term career path that naturally leads to retirement. Generation Xers, on the other hand, tend to seek a work/life balance and are more fluid with career change and are outcome-oriented. Millennials echo traits of both of their older generations by seeking stability in their careers while maintaining work/life balance. Millennials also understand and value the importance of mentorship.

Employee Communication Tools

Bridging the communication gap between generations

With the possibility of three generations of workers in a company, there are communication gaps that arise not only from how a message is delivered but also from an interpretation of the message itself. Prior to the advent of e-mail as a communication tool, company-wide announcements were either delivered in person, or in the form of a memorandum, or possibly as a bulletin board post. Nowadays, all staff e-mails are commonplace. Depending on the industry with which you are employed, there are likely other communication tools in place that allow employees to communicate. These include a global manner or individually such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, or Slack. When a diverse set of communication tools is available for employees, both efficiencies and inefficiencies are formed. Messages can be delivered expediently (sometimes in the form of emojis), but the interpretation of the message is influenced by the generation of the receiver. Therefore, what is common parlance for one generation, may have an entirely different meaning for another.

A simple example of a generational communication gap when using instant messaging is the common “thumbs up” emoji. For Gen Xers who grew up watching the television series Happy Days and its popular character, Arthur Fonzarelli (Fonzie), thumbs up means has a positive “cool” connotation, however, to Millennials, that same emoji is interpreted as dismissive or condescending. A communication gap will always exist between the generations. However, the effects of the gap can be mitigated.

Closing the Communication Gap

Closing the communication gaps within teams

Implementing an Intranet can alleviate some of the communication gap issues. By providing a consistent experience in a common format to be accepted by all generations. Adding items to the Company News application, or advertising new Documents or Items with a “What’s New” widget is simple enough for Baby Boomers to understand and commonplace for Millennials. Typically, the Intranet Connection home page is a collection of widgets designed to present news and information in a meaningful consistent way.

Now in their early to late teens, Generation Z (sometimes referred to as the iGeneration, or Post-Millennials) are entering the workforce. This generation is largely known for having grown up with the internet as a staple part of life. They are completely comfortable with technology and can adapt well to work environments that are fast-paced and technologically centered. However, there is a perception that Generation Z are also bound by a need for this ubiquitous connectivity and are left feeling isolated and uncomfortable without wi-fi. The internet (and Intranets) are not going away any time soon, so it will be interesting seeing how this latest generation integrates within the workforce at a time when baby boomers are leaving it.

By Paul Marcotte

Paul Marcotte is a lead software developer with close to two decades of experience in a variety of programming languages and technologies. He is passionate about software design patterns, development best practices, and software architecture. He also has a bachelor of commerce degree and is passionate about the big picture of how software helps businesses and users to thrive.